There are a lot of things to be said about the draft (I, personally would like it abolished), but a yearly influx of talented young players is something no other league in the world has. A few clubs around the world have academies, but it’s rare that they’re able to produce league-altering talents on an annual basis. In the NWSL, it’s also becoming increasingly common for rookies to have immediate impacts on their team and the league.
Half of all NWSL teams this year had rookie players named in their starting lineups, plus Gotham turned to rookie Jenna Nighswonger when Ali Krieger went off in the 10th minute with an injury. From No. 1 overall draft picks to undrafted talents, here are four rookies to keep an eye on throughout the season.
Thompson is just 18 years old, was the No. 1 pick in the draft, and skipped college to turn pro. Since, all she’s done is show everyone why she was the No. 1 pick every time she’s stepped onto the pitch as a professional. In her first competitive match, a preseason friendly with Club América, she torched their whole backline for her first goal as an Angel City player. On opening weekend she was at it again, scoring an absolute rocket from just outside the box.
Metayer went undrafted in the 2023 NWSL Draft but agreed to attend preseason with the Washington Spirit and earned a three-year contract with an option for a fourth. The 5-foot-10 midfielder was then handed her first start on opening day, against one of the toughest midfields in the league with Rose Lavelle and Jess Fishlock. Metayer played all 90 minutes and held her own, winning 100% of her tackles (3/3), making four ball recoveries, and winning two-thirds of her aerial duels. It wasn’t the prettiest game of soccer but Metayer showed she can help her team grind out a win.
We’re cheating a bit since Shaw made five appearances last season after joining San Diego in mid-July, but Shaw is still just 18 years old and this is her first full season. She marked the occasion by blasting a rocket by USWNT starting goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Shaw’s intelligence, movement, striking ability and creativity promise are going to be major problems for opponents for a very long time.
Wingate didn’t start but came on in the 65th minute and proceeded to terrorize Kansas City’s defense. She completed all of her dribbles (3/3) and won 100% of her duels (3/3) in her 25-minute cameo. The night of the draft, Wingate seemed a curious selection at No. 6 overall. If she keeps this up, we’ll all be asking how she fell that far.